This is a line you won’t hear from me again in this column, I promise, but I can’t wait to see what pans out when Leyton Orient host York City in League 2 on Saturday afternoon. It’s the game of the weekend.
Why? Well, since losing 3-1 at Hartlepool last Sunday, the players and coaching staff have been forced (yes, I do mean forced) by the club’s colourful Italian owner Francesco Becchetti to live together in an Essex hotel.
The O’s chief asked the coach driver to take them straight to the £100 a night Waltham Abbey Marriott en route back from the north east last weekend, where everyone was informed that it was to be their home until after the next match.
I’ve never heard anything like it.
It’s not quite a lock and key situation. I understand the players are free to come and go as they please when there’s spare time in the afternoons, but they wake up there, they eat there, and they sleep there. Bussed to and from the training ground, the team is boarding full time at this establishment just off the M25.
And I think it’s a disgrace.
There are those who’ll say this isn’t abnormal for footballers overseas, and they’re almost right. In Italy for example, teams often sleep at the training ground and spend two or three nights away together in isolation before a match.
Culturally, they accept it as part of the job. I don’t have an issue with that.
The difference here – and this is a critical contradiction to understand – is that those ‘boot camps’ are all planned well in advance. They are work schedules put into the players’ diaries, long before they happen.
They are not spontaneous acts of punishment.
To spring this on Leyton Orient’s first team squad (and more importantly their families) is nothing short of diabolical on Becchetti’s part.
As owner of the club does he actually believe the players are his own personal property too?
It’s a pertinent question to answer. Does he even have a right to think that way?
Some fans may believe he does, and football is no ordinary profession so I understand there are blurred lines. But the answer should be no. To change a person’s living arrangements, just like that, with no choice but to go along with it, goes way beyond the pale.
I’m sure that some (certainly not all) of Leyton Orient’s players are paid very well, but we’re not talking about millionaires here. They aren’t paid enough to drop their entire lives at the whim of their boss.
Many of them will have important family responsibilities to undertake each day, such as taking the kids to and from school, babysitting, or cooking meals. Needing two incomes, they won’t all have stay-at-home partners to pick up the slack.
Just like you and me, Orient’s ‘cooped-up 24’ will have important jobs to do, errands to run, places to be.
Making desperate rearrangements will have put an awful lot of noses out of joint. People who have had nothing to do with Leyton Orient’s form will have suffered, not least the children and partners that are missing their loved ones.
What right does Mr Becchetti have to inflict those problems on others?
Manager Ian Hendon did his best to explain the positives on radio this morning, but when asked how his wife felt, he couldn’t lie. She wasn’t at all happy, he confessed.
All the others will be getting it in the neck from their other halves too, and as a consequence resentment will be rife inside the dressing room. Stress will be building.
There are advantages too, I guess. Spending so much time with one another can help with ‘bonding’ (although it can easily go the other way) and free from outside distractions the squad are perhaps better equipped to concentrate on the job in hand; Saturday’s game at home to York.
None of that compensates for the domestic issues created.
How will they perform on Saturday? I see it as a bit of a no-win situation.
Should Leyton Orient win, Becchetti may see it as a vindication of his methods, and try to implement a regular arrangement.
If they lose, there’s every chance the players will feel his wrath in a different way.
I think the Italian is totally out of order. If you want the squad to spend a week together in a hotel, that’s fine, just give them a bit of notice.
Football clubs employ their players. They don’t own their entire lives. Do they?